Physical pain is isolated and can typically be resolved with medical treatment. Emotional and mental anguish can be much more difficult to pinpoint. However, it is not something we can simply ignore and move past. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk describes how detrimental it is to hold onto internal suffering without processing our emotions. If we hold our pain, stuff our emotions, try to forget destructive events, our physical bodies will remember.
Relational fractures, memories of trauma, an assault on our character or unjust condemnation are a few ways suffering wreaks havoc in our hearts and our minds. We feel panicked by a memory and we may oscillate between isolation or feel antagonistic toward others. In this moment, our goal is to be self protective and distracted so we can quickly move past the feelings of disintegration. Even when healthy emotional reactions can feel like we are outside of ourselves, or like a stranger has invaded our bodies.
Have a Heart
Rarely do we have an emotion completely isolated to its present catalyst. We feel something and then we immediately have an additional emotional reaction. For example, you may feel hurt by the fracture in a relationship. On the heels of this emotional response, you may feel the feelings like neglect or rejection due to events of your childhood. This could end with a true realization about yourself or it could lead to unnecessary feelings of victimization and anger. Both the reaction and the response to the reaction offers the gift of insight both internally and interpersonally. How we steward this gift determines how we grow in Christlikeness.
The Yellow Brick Road
An important first step is to differentiate what emotion is in the present and what emotion is from your past. This demands intentional time to sit with our pain. When we give time and energy to acknowledge our pain, we validate our emotion and are able to pinpoint other times in life we have felt a similar way. You may not just feel the hurt from unresolved conflict in a relationship, you may also be overwhelmed by fear of what it will mean moving forward.
Recognizing how previous failed relationships are affecting your response to the current pain is important to both regulate and respond properly to your emotions. If we are misunderstood or our integrity is called into question, we don’t just feel hurt by the injustice. We are forced to sit with the possibility we have done wrong or need correcting. In this instance, we repent, apologize and then follow Christ’s example and “entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Feeding this sort of truth to our mind then calms our emotion and regulates our body.
Understanding of self allows us to prayerfully accept how we are hurting in the present as well as how we have been deeply wounded in the past. This process threatens to initially add to our discomfort but it is important to remember emotion is neither good nor bad. We can be emboldened by the healing that comes with self awareness allowing us to embrace how faithful Jesus is to love us regardless of our worst realities.
Ever Present Flying Monkeys
The Christian life demands constant vigilance, being watchful for sin to creep in and confuse our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes our choices are a contributing catalyst to the event that is causing our suffering. Sometimes fear, selfishness or pride creeps in as we respond to others out of our wounds. All of these realizations should be brought to light in an attitude of repentance. This work is best done with trusted friends by our side. God created us in His image as relational emotional beings. We need faithful fellow believers in our community of care to be inquisitive. We need to invite their questions, trusting their willingness to stay close enough to see us and continue to accept us.
By God’s grace, He is as faithful to heal our internal wounds and forgive our sins as he is merciful to heal our physical bodies. This process may not be as efficient as we would like. When we feel our emotions in our heart and gut, alerting us to something that needs attention, how do we regain stability and self control? When our emotions leave us disintegrated and overwhelmed, how can we recover? The Apostle Paul has the answer in his letter to the Romans, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
This post dissects the Tin Man. Next we’ll discuss the Scarecrow.
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Fortin, J. (2018). Lament of a wounded priest: The spiritual journey of job. Religions (Basel, Switzerland), 9(12), 417-14 pp. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120417
Kanov, J. (2021). Why suffering matters. Journal of Management Inquiry, 30(1), 85-90. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492620929766
Thompson, C. (2010). Anatomy of the soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Thompson, C. (2021). The soul of desire: Discovering the neuroscience of longing, beauty, and community. InterVarsity Press.
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books